Dartmouth undergrads who are considering careers in science have a chance to "apprentice" themselves to mentors at DMS and actually sample the culture of life in a lab. Here is a look at several such pairings—through the eyes of two undergraduates who took on apprenticeships of a different sort.
Donald Trump has given the word "apprentice" a bad name. The practice forged in the medieval era, of learning a craft in the atelier of a master, is alive and well at Dartmouth—sans the viciousness of Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice, on which young contestants vie for a chance to run a company owned by the business magnate. However, the Dartmouth undergraduates who've had a chance to "apprentice" in Dartmouth research labs are just as eager as the TV contestants to show they're talented and committed. And Dartmouth faculty members—at the Medical School, as well as in the undergraduate science departments and at the Thayer School of Engineering—are eager to welcome undergrads into their labs.
Working in labs gives students "real-world experience [in] all the things that go with research—the fruits, the perspiration, the reexperimentation," says Lee Witters, M.D., a DMS endocrinologist and the faculty advisor for the Nathan Smith Society, an organization for Dartmouth undergraduates who are interested in careers in medicine or health. A lab experience, he adds, "opens [students'] eyes to the opportunities and possibilities" in research.
The benefits are both pragmatic and philosophical. Working in a lab "can help [students] determine whether they want to do research as a career," points out Margaret Funnell, Ph.D., assistant dean of the faculty for undergraduate research. Undergraduates also often forge a bond with the faculty member, "who can be a mentor and guide students as they make academic and career decisions." And, she adds, experience doing research is always a plus and is sometimes required when students apply to graduate or medical school.
It can be a plus for faculty, too, to have undergraduates in their labs, says Mary Pavone, director of Dartmouth's Women in Science Project (WISP). "The benefit to faculty," Pavone explains, "is that they can be refreshed and rejuvenated by working with young students and have the satisfaction of knowing they have influenced them in some positive way about a science career."
National studies have shown that "undergraduate research enhances the educational experience of science undergraduates," noted a 2004 paper in Cell Biology Education. At Dartmouth, some undergrads are so interested in such experiences that they volunteer in labs. Butmany undergraduate research positions offer stipends, which come from alumni donors, foundations such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, corporations, federal agencies, and other sources.
On the following pages is a glimpse of four "apprentice" researchers and their faculty mentors, and at how the experience has enriched (and challenged) them. The Q&A text has been edited lightly from interviews conducted with the students and the faculty members.
As it happens, two Dartmouth Medicine "apprentices"—pictured on the facing page—were integral to the production of this feature: senior Lauren Wool, on the left, took the photographs and junior Vanessa Hurley, right, interviewed the students.
Wool was the photo editor last year of the undergraduate newspaper, The Dartmouth, and the editor this year of a monthly newsletter put out by WISP. She also held a work-study position at
Dartmouth Medicine from the second term of her first year through the final term of her senior year; in addition to transcribing interviews and helping maintain the magazine's index and digital image database, she has taken photographs several times for these pages and even wrote an article for this issue (see "It's game, set, Match Day for DMS '08s"). Wool, who majored in neuroscience, graduated this June and plans to pursue a career in website design, magazine publishing, and photography.
Hurley, who spent the spring term as Dartmouth Medicine's editorial intern, has written several other articles for this issue (see "Air time for preemie respiration," "News Briefs," and "DMS experts help national journalists communicate clearly"). She was drawn to the internship as a chance to integrate her interest in both science and writing. Hurley just completed her junior year and is majoring in English while also completing the premedical requirements. After graduating, she plans to go into medicine and/or science journalism.
In addition, both Wool and Hurley have themselves worked in research positions at Dartmouth. "The benefits of working in a lab are the relationships that you create," says Wool, who worked for a year and a half with a researcher in the College's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The challenge, she adds, is that "lab work requires a lot of patience, and it is immensely frustrating
not to get [immediate] results. But overall, it makes you better at paying close attention to details and helps enhance your critical-thinking skills."
Hurley's research experience involved working on two clinical research projects at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth during her first and second years at Dartmouth. One study looked at how long women who delivered babies at DHMC continued to breast-feed their infants, and the other examined hepatitis B vaccination rates. "I wanted a chance to work on a project that was more clinical in nature—sort of the human side of medicine," explains Hurley.
It's impossible to pin down exactly how many undergraduates over the years have worked in labs, since the experiences are arranged under many different auspices—including WISP, the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research, and the Student Employment Office. But the total is clearly well into the thousands.
Even students who decide not to go on in science get something out of such experiences. "I think the benefits of research go well beyond simply preparing someone for a research job," says Assistant Dean Funnell. "The skills students learn doing research are skills that translate into many other jobs: thinking critically, drawing evidencebased conclusions, and communicating findings and opinions."
Laura Carter, the associate editor of Dartmouth Medicine magazine, wrote the introductory text on this page. Also playing key roles in this feature were the two Dartmouth undergraduates pictured above: Lauren Wool '08, who majored in neuroscience and worked in the magazine's offices all four years at Dartmouth, and Vanessa Hurley '09, a premed English major who spent the spring term as DM's editorial intern.